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  Public Library Director's Guidebook


Budgeting is one of the most important things you can do as a director. It is tied in with your strategic plan. The budget puts the monetary figures on the programs and services outlined in your strategic plan.

Preparation of the Budget

What is your fiscal year?

In most of Nebraska, the fiscal year is September 1 through August 31.

Review recent financial data

Review what your actual income and expenses have been for the current year. Ask some questions: Do we really need this? Can we do this more cheaply through ILL, contracts, cooperative collection development with the local schools, etc.?

Review your library's strategic plan

  • What are your goals for this coming fiscal year and what is it going to cost to achieve them?
  • Ascertain changes in:
    • Library policies
    • Funding agency policies
    • Statutes
    • Community conditions


  • Check with your funding authority on any changes - more or less money than the current year? Identify any possible income from grants or gifts.
  • Remember: hard money is the yearly budgeted amount from your funding authority. Soft money is money you cannot rely upon receiving each year. For example, grant money is soft money.


  • Identify increased expenses. Call your utility suppliers and the post office and find out if there are any rate changes expected in the coming year.
  • Use written narrative to justify increases. The narrative removes the need for as much explanation at the budget hearings.


Once the budget is created, it needs to be approved; first by your library board then by your funding authority. Because the library board is legally responsible, it is technically the board that presents the budget. Even before the presentation, every board member must be both ready and willing to support, clarify, or defend the proposed budget.


  • The board and/or funding authority may require changes before approving the proposed budget.
  • Keep watch on your budget monthly to make sure you are keeping within budget. If you go over budget, make adjustments in succeeding months to get back within budget.


The public library is often audited under the umbrella of their funding authority but if it isn't, then there should be an audit every 1-2 years in order to demonstrate that the library's finances are above-board. If there is an audit independent of the funding authority, then a copy should be submitted to them.

It is useful to think of the budget process as a cycle. Once a budget year has started, the process of planning for the next year has also started. Making regular financial reports and keeping track of expenditures are important, not only because they are fiscally responsible, but also because they produce information that assists in planning for the next year.

The budget process exists in real time, influenced by its environment - economic climate, political climate, expectations, exigencies, and emergencies. Many factors outside of the library's control affect the budget, so it is definitely to the library's advantage for the board and the director to be "plugged in" and knowledgeable about the municipality or parent institution and other funding agencies. For a municipal public library, a good relationship with the City Clerk is extremely important. The director of a municipal library is part of the "city team" and needs to get to know other city department heads and learn about their departments. Having allies among other municipal departments helps to get library needs better recognized, and it helps the library to make its contributions to the community. A library director must understand not only the library's budget process, but the budget process of the town.

The Budget Process

Budget Process part one

Library Budget Process

The library budget starts with a plan. What would the library (by which is meant the board, director, and staff) like to accomplish? Having a strategic plan in place makes developing the budget easier because goals and priorities have already been determined. It also makes justifying the budget easier because information about the needs of the community has already been gathered, so that the bases for budget requests are clear.

The library board is legally responsible for library finances, but budget preparation is a cooperative process involving the library board, the library director and staff, and funding agencies. The calendar for the budget process will probably be set by the primary funding agency and should be followed closely. If the library receives funding from multiple government entities, the library may very well have to keep track of a different budget calendar for each.
There are three important stages in the budget process: preparation, presentation, and implementation.

  1.  Preparation
    The librarian, staff, and library board should share in a give-and-take process of budget discussion and review. Preparation involves some vital steps:
    1. Review the long-range plan, goals and objectives, and project anticipated expenditures in relation to resources.
    2. Develop a budget calendar with dates for completion.
    3. Evaluate the prior year’s actual line or program costs.
    4. The librarian presents a budget draft to the full board for changes and adoption.
  2. Presentation
    When the proper time comes, the director should accompany the board to present the budget to local government officials. Because the library board is legally responsible, it is technically the board which presents the budget. Even before the presentation, every board member must be both ready and willing to support, clarify, or defend the proposed budget. To help “sell” the budget:
    1. Throughout the year, point out the successes, the services, and the community’s response to the library. Invite city officials to receptions and library activities regularly.
    2. Offer quality library reference service and assistance to local government officials and departments. Show how indispensable your library is to each of them individually.
    3. Send copies of letters of appreciation, notice of awards and/or staff accomplishments, and newspaper articles to local government officials.
    4. Use the Friends of the Library and other community library supporters to help promote the library budget and to speak on the library’s behalf.
    5. Tell the community what they can expect and what the current funding level will accomplish. Prepare brochures, newsletters, newspaper items, television spots, community meetings, etc., to help with promotion.

      Because local officials must consider all services which are to be provided to the community for the next year, board members should recognize that their elected officials face many competing and persuasive appeals for the limited funds available, and be ready to explain the benefits to the community of library services.
  3. Implementation
    While board members set priorities and review budget implementation, they are not usually involved with the day-to-day financial operations of the library. The library director is responsible for daily operations and for keeping the trustees informed of budget expenditures.



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